It was the blizzard of Whatsapps that woke me up rather than the actual earthquake. (As an aside, I’m inordinately proud of that line – sort of casual but threatening…). So here’s the deal. I’m in Rwanda working on a volunteering project – of which more anon – but on last Thursday night the country had a fairly major ‘quake at 3.30am. I, unsurprisingly, was dead to the world, but I recall through my dreams that someone seemed to be banging a lot on the pipes on the balcony and for some reason the wardrobe doors were vibrating roundly. Cue the aforementioned tsunami of Whatsapps from my (more alert) colleagues in the hotel. So I got up, wandered round for a bit, decided ‘It’s all over’ and lay down again. But when the next mild tremors arrived, I actually got dressed and no – I did NOT go outside – being Irish I went back to bed. We discovered the next day that pretty much all of the ‘under-reactors’ like me did this (sleep in our clothes), rather than heading down to reception to ask the staff ‘What should we do’? An interesting added element to what’s turning out to be an amazing trip.
The problem is that events and meetings and experiences are coming so thick and fast it’s next to impossible to process them. Then throw in the odd earthquake and it gets even more complicated. So I have decided that this and future posts will have to feature more images than usual, but if a picture tells a thousand words, then this should help. As a matter of interest, when I see the word ‘thousand’ it occurs to me that this is the ‘land of a thousand hills’. It’s actually true. Having now travelled East, South and West from the central capital city Kigali, they are absolutely everywhere. It’s one of the most memorable landscapes I have ever seen.
So last week (starting August 3rd) we launched into a series of interviews with stakeholders in the drive to assist female economic empowerment/employment in Rwanda. And on top of that we hit the road to meet the members of the female co-ops who form a tomato-growing initiative called Imali. Lovely people, main problem being all our dialogue with each of the four co-ops we met had to be translated as these women really only speak Kinyarwanda (local language) and a dialect version of French. So this was a pain but we had to put up with it and kept using the phrase ‘what did she say’ a lot. It’s a bit perplexing when the woman talks for 7 minutes and the translator goes ‘she said that they harvest the crop three times a year’. Something’s missing. But it’s been fascinating and hopefully will continue to be so as we try to knit what we have learned into a coherent proposal.
Most amazing of all – the Rwandan roads. Where people walk goats like dogs. Where women balance crazy, huge bundles of firewood on their heads while talking on a mobile. Where men (typically) cycle sturdy machines with ANYTHING on them. Things like a rolled tin roof for a house. Like another bicycle. Like multiple jerrycans of water. Like a trussed live goat. Like a giant hank of green bananas. Like two more people on the bike. Look at the snatched pictures, you’ll get the picture.
Other recent highlights? Definitely visiting the ‘women for women’ initiative in East Rwanda. Getting to Lake Kivu at Kibuye and managing to take a boat trip. Visiting Butare, about 30k from the Burundi border. Establishing that Karaoke is the new passion of the volunteering crew (and the cheesier the song, the better the fun. The Lionel Ritchie revival continues here). Discovering that Rwandans share my passion for football (soccer) and Arsenal are huge here – even if they were beaten by West Ham on the opening day of the premiership to local’s disgust. Seeing barefoot games of soccer in dusty roadside patches of dirt at dusk. Hearing some great jazz at the Hotel des Mille Collines (Hotel Rwanda). I even joined Kigali Public Library this week, because we’re working in an office there and I saw a book I really wanted to read. So I’m now ‘on the local files’…if not actually a ‘local’.
The downs? Mosquito bites. But the creams help. It’s also amazing how Apps like Whatsapp make it so easy to talk with home – literally. They really make it easier to be away and to try to stay connected both here and there.
Week three beckons – hope it’s as stimulating as the last two were (and that the vibrating hotel room was a one-off!). #ibmcsc rwanda